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Legislator Ted Morton sues Erie County over $500 ethics fine

Erie County Legislator Ted Morton, still angry over a $500 ethics fine, is suing the county he represents.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Buffalo federal court, Morton accuses Erie County and the chairman of its ethics board of defaming him when the board found him in violation of financial disclosure rules.

Morton, a Cheektowaga Republican and former financial planner, is asking a judge to vacate the fine and rule invalid the county law that led to it.

Morton filed his suit five months after the county Board of Ethics fined him for filing false information on his 2013 financial disclosure form and several months after Democrats first raised it as a campaign issue in last year’s legislative elections.

Morton underestimated his personal debts by tens of thousands of dollars.

“Government should serve the public good, not partisan agendas,” the lawmaker said in a statement Monday. “Unfortunately, I had to file a federal lawsuit to get a fair shake.”

When Democrats began raising questions about the error during Morton’s re-election campaign, he acknowledged it but characterized it as a mistake, not a deliberate attempt to deceive the ethics board.

Morton said his disclosure form, which indicated he owed less than $25,000 to a single creditor, should have indicated he owed about $90,000 to three different creditors.

When the issue first arose, Morton filed a corrected disclosure form and said he had paid off all of his debts.

The ethics board subsequently fined Morton, he appealed and the board reaffirmed its decision in April, concluding Morton was negligent in not reporting his true 2013 finances.

“You should have known that the statements made on the form were erroneous,” Steven Schwartz, chairman of the Board of Ethics, said in a letter to Morton at the time.

In his suit, Morton is challenging the county law that led to the fine and claiming he was denied an opportunity to make his case before the ethics board.

“Mr. Morton was denied the basic due process protections that are routinely afforded to people who receive a parking or a speeding ticket,” said Jeremy A. Colby, Morton’s lawyer.

Colby said the county law also conflicts with state law and its “knowing and willful” standard.

Morton’s run-in with the ethics board followed an incident stemming from his time as a financial planner and $315,000 that he borrowed from seven of his clients, with their approval.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Agency determined his actions were an ethical breach, fined him $5,000 and suspended him from financial planning for six months.

Schwartz and lawyers for the county declined to comment Monday.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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